Growing your own food earns gobs of cool points in our book. Many of us start with basil or mint plants. When that works, we try more. But some plants aren’t worth growing yourself. The investment in time, money, and trouble is too high, and the return too low. You might as well grab it at the market.
Why grow in the first place? We reap so many benefits from planting, nurturing, and tending vegetables and fruits in the yard or outdoor containers. It saves you money; provides you with fresher, better tasting, more nutritious meals; gives you control over the way your food is grown including chemicals used; and helps the ecosystem, air, and environment in general. Plus, if you’re into the whole locavore movement, it doesn’t get any more local than a few steps from your door. (Unless you sleep with your plants, but that’s another issue.)
More people are growing food. By 2014, food gardening in the United States was at the highest levels in more than a decade, according to a report by the National Gardening Association. The largest increases in participation are among millennials — up 63 percent since 2008. In a 2016 American Society of Landscape Architects survey, 75 percent of the 803 respondents wanted food gardens in their home landscaping.
These plants can be cheaper to grow than to buy: Fruit trees, leaf lettuce, herbs, vine vegetables, and bell peppers. So take that basil and try our Easy Basil Pesto recipe, use that mint for our Roasted Beet Tzatziki Salad recipe, and with those tomatoes, make a bunch of our salsa recipes.
But many home growers, including some of us here at Chowhound, have discovered it’s not worth the effort with the following edible plants. Here’s why:
This erratic plant has a long growing season before it matures, so that can take patience. But cauliflower also likes it cool, according to Linsey Knerl on Wise Bread. So you may have a hard time with this vegetable if you live in a part of the country that gets hot early. Cauliflower wants to be pampered: For instance, the outer leaves have to be grown so they can cover the cauliflower’s head and be tied. Even if you do all that, beetles and other insects love to do damage on on the head’s florets, which is even more of a pain than normal because that head is hiding behind those outer leaves. The final yield — assuming you did everything right — is just one head. Eh. Get our cauliflower recipes.
You have to cover a lot of ground to grow enough corn for it to pollinate, and the average backyard gardener doesn’t possess that much space. Corn pollinates through the wind, so you have to plant your corn crop in a square shape, using at least 20 plants or so. Also, be careful about planting different varieties together, for the same wind and cross-pollination reasons. When the wrong varieties mix together, the corn can taste off. Unless you have a bunch of rows, the tall, spindly stalks can blow over in high winds or other bad weather. You also only get about two ears per stalk. Get our corn recipes.
Carrots require soil with the perfect pH level that’s been prepared specially and is well tended. You need at least six inches of soil that’s been tilled and loosened, with no pebbles. Any obstructions can stunt the root’s growth or cause it to branch off and create a gnarly looking carrot or split carrot. Clay soil is bad for carrots, mineral soil is OK, and humus is the best, according to How Stuff Works: Home & Garden. Carrots are just too cheap at the store to bother with all this trouble for the average home gardener. Get our carrot recipes.
Celery needs a bunch of moisture, so your soil must be able to hold its water. You also have to be a gardener devoted to consistent watering. The growing season of 120 to 180 days from seed to harvest is pretty long, which can be a bummer. During the growth period, celery needs cool weather, so you can’t grow it well in the summer in the South or Midwest. Get our celery recipes.
Eggplants are very sensitive to temperature fluctuations for one thing, but their main problem is pests. That’s not an issue if you can grow row cover crops or you’re fine with using pesticides. Most of us who grow at home though, do it to avoid potentially toxic chemicals on our food. Get our eggplant recipes.
If we haven’t discouraged you too much (or you want to challenge our warnings), get out there and grow. Prove us wrong.